Spencer Havner has a new opportunity.
Will it be his last?
Havner spent most of his first three NFL seasons on the practice squad before getting a four-game cameo on the active roster last year after Nick Barnett was put on injured reserve.
But the clock is ticking on the former standout linebacker from UCLA. He's exhausted his practice squad eligibility, so it's do or die for Havner's career. Either the 26-year-old makes an active roster or he puts his economics degree to work.
So, on Tuesday, Havner was given some surprising news: He'd be given a shot to be the Packers' version of "Slash," playing tight end as well as linebacker.
"(Coach Mike McCarthy) just said, ‘It's a way to create an opportunity for me to have a chance to make the team," Havner said after Wednesday's practice.
Havner left UCLA as the third-leading tackler in school history. He signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2006 but was released among the Redskins' final cuts. Havner was signed to the Packers' practice squad in October 2006, and he spent the rest of 2006, all of 2007 and most of 2008 on the practice squad after failing to make the team out of training camp the last two seasons.
Even with the switch to a 3-4 defense, which will increase the number of linebackers on the roster from six to nine, Havner faced long odds. With Barnett and A.J. Hawk entrenched as the starters and Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar providing a pair of talented backups, Havner was relegated to third-string duties with Danny Lansanah.
Offense-to-defense switches almost never work at this level, where players are talented and experienced. But Havner isn't exactly a neophyte at the position. He played linebacker and tight end at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, Calif., and he was involved in some special offensive packages at UCLA, though those plays were left on the practice field. More importantly, he has served as the Packers' scout team tight end, where he impressed McCarthy.
"For everyone that's been at practice in the past, Spencer has played tight end on the scout teams," McCarthy said. "He has shown the ability to play tight end in our opinion in this league, so to increase his value on our football team, we're going to give him the opportunity to train both at tight end and at linebacker. He had the opportunity to play special teams last year. I thought he did a very good job. It will give him a chance to once again, increase his value. So, we'll train him (Thursday) and next week (at the minicamp) at tight end, and when we get to training camp, he's going to be rolling back and forth between linebackers and tight ends."
Actually playing the position might be the least of Havner's problems. Learning Dom Capers' new defense was tough enough. Now, he has to learn the Packers' voluminous offensive playbook. To digest it all, Havner joked that he'd be going back to "grade school" by quizzing himself with flash cards.
"The challenge is just all of the information," Havner said. "The defense is putting in a crazy amount of stuff and the offense — I'm not really familiar with all of the terminology, so I'm trying to catch up on that."
The Packers aren't asking Havner to win a starting job at either position. Even Havner admitted that the Packers have seen all they need to see of him at linebacker. At tight end, Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley will be battling for the starting job, with incumbent Tory Humphrey, undrafted rookie Carson Butler and just-signed rookie Devin Frischknecht joining Havner in the battle to be the third tight end.
At Wednesday's practice, Havner looked pretty good running routes and seemed like he had decent hands. Practicing reach blocks by running full speed and diving head-first into a dummy to imitate taking out a defensive player at the knees, offensive line coach James Campen yelled, "low knees!"
If Havner is able to do double duty, it will increase the odds of him doing what he does best: playing special teams. In his four games last year, he had three special-teams tackles and downed two punts inside the 10-yard line. On Wednesday, he lined up with the No. 1 kickoff unit.
The downside is playing defense and offense makes it hard to do either one well.
"That's the hard part," Havner said. "I want to be real good at one thing. At first, it was linebacker. Now, they're asking me to play both. Just going to have to make the best of it and see where it takes me."
So, there was Havner on Wednesday, looking odd playing tight end while wearing No. 53. With no name on the back of his new white jersey.
"The seamstress is ill or something," he said with a laugh.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.